The Longest Table Fosters Connection through Culture


The Longest Table: a celebration of culture

Hallie Dong, Staff Writer

On Friday May 12, 2023, families of all different backgrounds and cultures will gather in the NAI cafeteria at a very long table–sharing food, stories, and conversation. Cultural performances, music, and even dances will light up the night with celebration. Among these will be family heirloom dishes, carefully crafted and made with love.

The Longest Table is an event in which North Allegheny families of various cultures and all backgrounds are invited to enjoy an evening of time-honored, family heirloom recipes at a very long table, to embody the idea of inclusive conversation. Art for Ukraine, an organization using art-related initiatives to fund humanitarian aid and spread war awareness, is the host club. I currently spearhead the effort, with student committee members Kaitlyn Hetherington and Talia Jun also hard at work.

With its origins in 2019, two of these events were held at both NAI and Marshall Middle School, meeting huge success. Akshana Dassanaike, a current sophomore studying math and computer science at Stanford University, led the effort. “I had heard of the concept [of The Longest Table] online in another city,” he says. “I think one thing that was lacking when I was NAI, was more cultural and communal events.”

With a close relationship to his 10th grade English teacher Mr. Zack Hull, Akshana was able to further discuss this lack of community bonding. “I think that NA itself does have diversity, but it doesn’t always get displayed, and there’s not always an outlet for people to celebrate their cultures,” Akshana  says. And he wasn’t wrong: The Longest Table turned out to be the perfect combination: food, culture, and conversation.

And although The Longest Table 2023 is entirely student-led, it would not be possible without the guidance and aid of NAI staff members and clubs. 

Among the principal organizers is Assistant Principal Dr. John Morey, who has been an educator for 22 years, 8 of which have taken place at North Allegheny. Having lived in Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, he has seen firsthand the power of community—that The Longest Table may just bring out.

“Why help out?” Dr. Morey asks, “I firmly believe that learning about each other and being able to find all the commonalities while celebrating the differences strengthens us as a society.”

As the event approaches, expectations run high. But beneath the pressure of hours of planning and preparation is a deep excitement for the event itself.

Our hope is to foster a sense of mutual understanding, connection, and strength through giving people of all backgrounds and ethnicities a chance to share their culture with the North Allegheny community.

— Kaitlyn Hetherington

“I can’t wait to see the fruits of the student leaders’ labor,” Dr. Morey continues. “I look forward to learning about others and sharing traditional food/recipes with rich and personal meaning with our NAI families.”

Students’ hopes also remain high, as Art for Ukraine attempts to bring The Longest Table back from being put on hold, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

“It’s been such a long time since we had [The Longest Table] at our school since pre-COVID, and I’m really excited for what this one might bring,” an anonymous NAI sophomore says.

Most importantly, the student planning committee remains grounded in their mission.

“Our hope is to foster a sense of mutual understanding, connection, and strength through giving people of all backgrounds and ethnicities a chance to share their culture with the North Allegheny community,” says a member of the student planning committee, Kaitlyn Hetherington. 

In the future, Dassanaike hopes to see more The Longest Table events at North Allegheny. “It would be great for it to continue, even if there’s nothing different,” he mentions. “That’s a challenge in and of itself.” However, he suggests that cultural performances or demonstrations could be a great way to provide NA families with an additional outlet, besides food, to express and celebrate culture. Fortunately, this year, there will be all of the above.

Through The Longest Table, Art for Ukraine, the host organization, hopes to achieve their broader goal of ultimately choosing acceptance and celebration, instead of war and polarization, an issue prevalent in this time.

All NAI families are welcome to RSVP here!